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Finding Hope In The Classroom

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Most of us have stories of how teachers have left an impression, guided us on our life paths, mentored, suggested or directed, taught both implicitly and explicitly, even scolded and punished us. I would like to recall not just one teacher but many teachers who taught me, guided and mentored me at different points in my life.

I fondly remember my English teacher – Shenbaga. She was my class teacher for many years and taught me English from class 4 to class 8. In the way she read out the stories and poems to us, she brought the images alive. I still have a vivid memory of one of them, ‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn’ vividly. I can recollect parts of the stories – sections on how Tom Sawyer was made to paint/wash the wall and the journey of Huckleberry Finn in the boat and many more. She would create an atmosphere of suspense while reading out certain parts and then urge us to read by ourselves. It was not just her ability to create magic with words but her warmth and ability to connect with students as well that made her affable.

Teachers would often remind us about our uniform, tying our hair up, etc. I had a new haircut and many teachers warned me on flaunting my new hair style. After a week or so, Shenbaga Miss called me and said, ‘please tie your hair’. I said, I would do so, since she had told me and also, she said it with love. I guess this has stayed with me. The qualities of listening to students, to be warm and approachable, I guess she has taught me implicitly.

She once asked in the class if anyone would choose to teach or take up teaching as a profession. I partially raised my hand and replied that I would like to be a lecturer or professor. She asked, “Why not a teacher in a school?” I was shy at that time, but now if I meet her, I guess I would proudly say, “I am a teacher”.

I met many more teachers who guided me and challenged me when I started my course in M.A Education when I was in my late 20s. I would say that I am happy to have met one of the finest teachers in my life through this course, Prof. Chayanika Shah.

I was a student of science and a science teacher and had just started my exploration in social sciences and education. At this point she helped me examine my own notions of science. The question she raised and made me think about was, ‘Is science objective’? Her lectures, discussions and the materials she used were provocative. I was so intrigued by these that I started my Ph.D. on questions related to the nature of science. I would say that her questions around objectivity and subjectivity gave me a new lens through which to look at life. Questions around science led me to explore the ideas of tentativeness. I am happy that I did it. I am open now to new ideas, questions and challenges.

Prof. Nandini Manjrekar is another person who challenged and pushed my limits. I was in awe of her knowledge and understanding of different subjects from history to science, political science to mathematics. Her lectures on sociology of education made me understand social justice, democracy, inequality, and many more ideas and their relationship with education. She has read so much that in a one hour lecture she would quote and suggest at least five authors/books to read. She would set hard deadlines and, in many ways, I am thankful for that. Through her guidance she made me think through my research deeply. Her feedback would be so detailed and every line would have comments. My goal while writing and sending the drafts would be to have a minimum number of comments. Her standards were always high and it really helped me to go deeper and sharpen my understanding of education.

Prof. Padma Sarangapani was another person from whom I learnt to ask more and more questions. Her discussions and lectures were highly engaging. She would ask hows and whys and try not to give direct solutions. She made me think and find my own answers. I remember, during one of her lectures I had a strong opinion on examinations and said something in the class. She asked, ‘Indu, why do you say so?’ I tried to respond to her and this question made me think. I gave some answer and again she asked, ‘How is that?’ She spent a good ten minutes with me asking these hows and whys a couple of times and helped me understand my own assumptions. I realized that it was not reasonable for me to hold any unverified, unexamined views about learning and teaching. This made me think deeply about education. I try and emulate her and aspire to be a teacher like her. I try and make my students think and find their own answers. ‘Whys’ have become a part of my every day conversations and I bug my family and daughter with these.

These three teachers and many more of them whom I have not mentioned here helped me ponder on education, teaching and learning. I moved from being a student of science to becoming a science teacher and later teacher educator. I am happy that I have been exposed to social sciences and education. I now try and push people and student teachers to think deeply and take education and teaching as a serious profession. I would say that I found hope in classrooms, while teaching and while interacting with students. I end with a few lines here as an ode to my teachers

Classrooms are the only hopeful places,
I find hope when I enter classrooms,
I find hope in the questions that are asked,
I find hope in the curiosity that is aroused,
I find hope, a germ, a seed that we sow,
I find hope when there is dissent, an argument in the class,
I find hope when there is critical engagement,
I find hope when there are mistakes and
I find hope when there is chatter and noise in the classroom,
I find hope, a possibility of dialogue in classrooms,
Let’s keep this hope alive, only teachers can keep it going.

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An ‘Accidental’ Teacher Shows Us The Difference a Simple 1-Year Course Can Make!

Ramesh Jayaraman

Unlike the quintessential image we have of teachers, Ramesh brings not just an immense amount of passion towards teaching but also encourages curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking in his students.

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Many new-age schools expect parents to be involved every step of the way. So when Ramesh Jayaraman glanced through a leaflet his son had brought home which spoke about training to teach, he assumed it was a workshop for parents to teach their kids. Intrigued, he decided to attend the session, and as they say, the rest is history.

A chartered accountant by training and a filmmaker by choice with over two decades of experience, Ramesh can perhaps be described as an accidental teacher.

Unlike the quintessential image we have of teachers, Ramesh brings not just an immense amount of passion towards teaching but also encourages curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking in his students.

In this exclusive interview with The Better India, Ramesh speaks with passion about the year-long course on teacher training that he underwent, the teaching methodology, and why he thinks getting trained to be a teacher is a worthwhile exercise.

A chance encounter at the teacher-training session

The flyer that Ramesh’s older child got back from the school said, ‘Learn how teaching is done’. Thinking that the programme was all about helping parents teach their kids, Ramesh attended the session.

“I loved the half-day I spent there. I must mention that the team that works behind the scenes, the enthusiasm and the passion with which they speak about education will leave you pumped with energy and a willingness to give teaching a chance,” he says.

Even though Ramesh was convinced about the course, it took him an entire year to decide to go through with it.

He says, “It was always at the back of my mind, but it was only a year after I attended that half-day session that I enrolled for the ‘I Am Teacher’ course.”

As a filmmaker, Ramesh travelled extensively around India, covering various projects that the UNDP and UNICEF have funded. Most of these projects were around primary education, and that is when he started looking at education. “What works, what doesn’t – I’ve seen some amazing projects that have been pedagogically wonderful,” says Ramesh.

The formative years are extremely important for the kids. If one doesn’t get them hooked on to learning from that age, they are lost to the world of learning forever, he feels.

Having worked with government schools, he was keen on seeing what it would be like in private schools. He took a sabbatical for a year to see whether teaching would interest him and six months at being a teacher, after which he was confident that he made the right choice.

What does the course entail?

The course is a year-long programme, which attracts professionals from various walks of life. In a batch of 30 teacher-trainees, there were banking professionals, doctors, homemakers, filmmakers, and corporate workers. “This eclectic mix is what adds to the course. Each one brings so much to the table,” he says.

Ramesh says that he would recommend this course to those who are keen on teaching because it allows them the freedom to be in a classroom during the teacher-training course.

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The trainee teacher gets to learn from a teacher and shadow the teacher for a while.

“We weren’t just theoretically learning about how kids should be taught. We were getting to teach and learn hands-on how to deal with children and teach them. You will notice a change over the one-year that you are a part of the course,” he says.

This course makes you a good student to enable you to become a good teacher, says Ramesh.

Activity-based learning

What this essentially means is allowing the children to experience things and learn, through various activities. Ramesh says, “Just after the Tsunami struck, many schools along the belt that was hit were rebuilding from scratch, and they chose to adopt this activity-based learning module. I was involved in creating these modules for classes 1 to 4, and that was a great learning opportunity for me as well.”

Schools that follow the philosophy of J Krishnamurthy and Mother fascinated Ramesh, and for his children, he was looking for a school that followed their ideals.

It was this search that led Ramesh to Heritage Xperieential School in Gurugram.

What keeps a teacher going?

For Ramesh, being able to bring his filmmaking experience, spanning two decades to the classroom is most valuable. “I started working with students of senior grades and mentored them to produce their very own video newsletter. The high that I felt seeing the final product was something else,” he says.

While teaching is a passion for him, Ramesh was sure that he did not want to give up on a skill that he had spent almost twenty plus years fine-tuning.

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As we end our conversation, Ramesh urges anyone who might be interested in teaching to take the course. He says, “It’s one thing to be good at something but being trained in teaching adds so much more to what you can deliver.”

Passion is one thing, but teaching is a skill that one needs to learn, he says in conclusion.

If you find yourself drawn towards education, then do check out the details of the ‘I Am Teacher’ programme  here.

 

Ramesh Jayaraman – IAAT Graduate


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CAN WE CREATE AN INDIA OF OUR DREAMS WITHOUT CREATING CLASSROOMS OF OUR DREAMS?

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Smriti Jain writes why it is important to educate teachers in the changing education scenario.

 

“The status of the teacher reflects the socio-cultural ethos of a society; it is said that no people can rise above the level of its teachers.” The National Policy on Education, 1986

Can we truly empower our youth without empowering our teachers? Nations are built in classrooms. However, even after seventy plus years of independence, our classrooms are dominated by rote- learning and fear.  Millions of children in our country experience the education system as disempowering, robbing them of their curiosity and they suffer silently in our institutions of learning.

Physically punished for asking questions, forced to prioritize rote memorization over analytical thought, overcome by crippling anxiety, their self-worth reduced to the results of exams. It is no accident that India has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. One of the primary causes sited is failure in exams or the fear of that failure.

The struggles of our children reflect the struggles of our teachers. Our teachers are grossly unprepared to do anything different than what was done to them in their classrooms. Additionally, the prevalent model of teacher education bears a stark resemblance to the current model of schooling assembled around rote memory and examinations. When teachers do not experience any progressive pedagogy in their college classrooms how can they discover the vast potential of education?

Unsurprisingly, this type of teacher education yields the epidemic we see today of low teacher motivation, high absenteeism, and meaningless test-focused pedagogy. This perpetuates the destructive myth that teaching is easy, is a half-day’s job, and not a profession to take pride in. It is easy to put the blame on teachers. Our teachers are not failing. We as a system are failing our teachers. If we really want to re-imagine classrooms for our children, we must first re-imagine classrooms where our teachers are prepared. All research concludes that improving teacher quality is at the heart of improving student learning.

Teacher education is fundamentally about building more aware and empathetic human beings – people who understand themselves, can balance multiple perspectives, and relate deeply with others across traditional lines of difference.

Teachers first need to find their own voice before they can teach others to do the same. Teacher preparation programs should help them to connect with their self, their aspirations, and help them carve out their own identity as people and teachers. They must experience the purpose of education first hand and the profound effects it can have.

As children growing up in schools how many of us were provided the space to connect with ourselves and our purpose? As a nation obsessed with performance, grades and marks with little regard to deeper understanding, meaning, and nurturing human values; we are germinating violence in the classrooms.

For our classrooms to seed love, compassion and empathy instead of jealousy, comparison and one-upmanship; we need those torch bearers and change makers who can lead by example

Given the current ‘stick and carrot’ approach; nothing much is going to change. The system has created enough accountability measures without really looking at inspiring our teachers and nurturing them as human beings.

Smriti Jain, Co-Founder and Director, I Am A Teacher